Plugging Away for All It's Worth

(Taa..ta...rang!) All plug and no play makes your comp a dull play! For the best plug and play BIOS chips giving full access to the power of plug and play on Windows '95 contact..... (beep... beep... beep) We interrupt this advertisement to bring you an article on plug and play. Stay tuned....

Plug and play is another one of those catch phrases which has become popular with the advent of Windows '95. It is not as if the concept wasn't there before Windows '95 was thought of, but the thing has really been spotlighted by the Microsoft media machine. Now everybody is talking about plug and play BIOS chips, plug and play compatibility and what not. But does anybody really know what the heck plug and play is all about?

Basically, plug and play is about easier computing. It means that you don't have to do any complicated configuring, setting of jumpers and software installations to get a peripheral device like a printer or an internal card like a soundblaster working. You just plug the thing and start merrily working away and the computer handles the identification and configuration of the device for you. It's that simple, or is it? With computers, nothing is ever really simple and this holds true in the case of plug and play too. The idea itself is simple enough but the execution of it is not. So, let us take a look at what plug and play is all about and how it is (or can be) achieved.

As I said earlier, a true plug and play system will automatically detect, initialize and load the necessary drivers for all the hardware installed on your system and it will also detect and compensate for any changes made to the system while it is on. For this system to work, the devices and expansion cards should be dynamically configurable. That means, that the devices must have the capability to be configured by the system instead of the configuration having to be set by way of jumpers, switches etc. But, in a good plug and play system, you should also make allowances for legacy devices. Legacy devices are non-plug and play devices which cannot be dynamically configured.

Thus, when a plug and play system boots up, it should follow a routine similar to the following:

  1. Identify all the devices
  2. Determine resource requirements (DMA channels, IRQ lines etc.)
  3. Create a non-conflicting configuration
  4. Dynamically configure the devices
  5. Load the necessary device drivers
  6. Notify the operating system of configuration changes
  7. All of this usually takes place only once the operating system boot up is completed.

So, what of the devices which are necessary for the booting of the system such as the hard disk/floppy drive, monitor, keyboard, graphics adaptor etc? How do you configure those? This is where a plug and play BIOS comes in. Now BIOS, as most of you will know, stands for Basic Input Output System and is usually a ROM chip which contains the instructions for handling the booting up of a computer as well as the input and output routines. A plug and play BIOS is capable of isolating and initializing those devices which are crucial at boot time. It should also maintain a list of these devices and later pass it on to the operating system.

It might is a certainty that plug and play systems will not always work properly because there can be so many different combinations of devices and things are sure to foul up. One easily conceivable scenario is where two legacy systems try to access the same system resource. In such events, a plug and play system should also provide a facility to warn the user of such conflicts and allow him to manually configure the devices so that they don't conflict.

Now let us take a brief look at operating systems providing plug and play capabilities. The most well known and the one responsible for bringing plug and play to the attention of the media, is of course Windows '95 but the Apple Macintosh has had the same capabilities for years while OS/2 too has had it for a while. Then there are not so well known operating systems such as Linux (a flavour of UNIX for PCs) that have the same capabilities. As I have not worked extensively with Macs, I cannot vouch for its plug and play capabilities but they are supposed to be good and I know of several people who swear that the plug and play facilities on Linux leave all the rest behind!

As far as my own experience goes, I have worked with both OS/2 and Windows '95 and whatever its other faults, Windows '95 is way ahead in the plug and play department (except perhaps in the area of graphics adaptors - I had a lot of trouble getting my monitors to work at more than 640x480 resolution). I plugged in a CD-ROM drive, a sound blaster card, a and a SCSI card on a machine running Win '95 and it recognized all of it though the jumper settings on the SCSI card conflicted with an internal IRQ setting. The Win '95 control panel advised me of this conflict and I just had to open up the machine, remove the card, reset the IRQ line to a free one and then restart the machine to get everything working perfectly. OS/2 though, is far behind Win '95 in the number of devices they support. It did not properly detect my CD-ROM drive and I had to try a few generic driver before it worked.

Whatever its shortcomings, plug and play is definitely the right direction for computers to take because it makes computing far more easier for a lot of people out there. If the plug and play dream is fully realized, anybody out there can install a new device on their machine without a seconds thought. Now this might not be such good news to all the hardware support personnel out there, but for the rest of us, it will be a dream come true!

Hot off the Press!

Gamer's Den

For those of you who enjoyed "Lemmings" and the sequels containing those cute little creatures such as "More Lemmings", "Christmas Lemmings", "Lemmings: The Tribes" etc, there is a treat (or rather several of them) in store. For one thing, the original "Lemmings" is now available under Windows and it is quite good. To achieve respectable speeds, the authors have used both Win32S (the 32-bit extensions to Windows) and WinG (the Windows graphics system) and the results are pretty good. If you are a die-hard "Lemmings" lover, you should give this a try.

Psygnosis has also launched a new game of Lemmings called "3D Lemmings" and now, you can get back to helping those tiny creatures but in 3 dimensions. The screen shot I saw, showed what looked like a maze and the thought that immediately came to my mind was that it might be a DOOM clone featuring Lemmings, but no such luck. (Hey you guys at Psygnosis, are you listening?)

Talking of clones, a new game which is about to hit the market looks a lot like a Lemmings clone at first glance. In fact, it is called "Worms". Though the screens look a lot like the ones in "Lemmings", the idea behind the game is completely different - you have to take your team of crack Ninja worms and kill everybody else. The game is supposed to be played by several people at once and you take turns at controlling your worms for a given time period. During that time you can either attack or defend yourself and the player with worms alive at the end wins. Watch this column for more details!

Hacker's Corner

Those of you who enjoyed "Dune 2" must surely enjoy "Warcraft", a strategic simulator placed in a medieval/magical setting. The game is brilliant but it is always nice to have those cheat codes at hand, now aren't they? So, here are the complete instructions on how to cheat in "Warcraft".

Start up a new game and press Enter when you are in the main battle screen to get the message prompt. Then, type "Corwin of Amber" and press Enter to activate the master cheat code. Though it is not necessary to type this to get all the cheats given below to work, some of them will not work without the master cheat code. Then press Enter again to get the message prompt and type in any of the following cheat codes.

  1. Orc**/Human** : This will get you to the level you wish to play. Ex: Orc10
  2. Yours truly : Takes you to the victory sequence.
  3. Crushing defeat : Takes you to the defeat sequence.
  4. Ides of March : Takes you to the final sequence of the current campaign.
  5. Pot of gold : Adds 10,000 gold and 5,000 lumber to your account.
  6. Eye of newt : Gives all the magic spells to your magic users.
  7. Iron forge : Immediately gives you all available weapon technologies.
  8. Sally shears : Reveals the full map.
  9. Hurry up guys : Speeds up the building and training process.
  10. There can be only one : Makes your units invulnerable except by a direct catapult hit and gives them the ability to inflict damage of 255 points.

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